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St. Helens, Scappoose students join national walkout to raise awareness about gun violence and school safety

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Students at St. Helens High School particpated in a national school walkout protest on March 14. Students wore t-shirts, stickers, and help up signs with the message that enough is enough when it comes to school shootings and they want to feel safe in their schools.UPDATED 3/15/18: Students in Columbia County took the opportunity Wednesday morning to say "enough is enough" when it comes school shootings and improving school safety.

Students at St. Helens and Scappoose high schools took part in a national school walkout Wednesday morning, March 14, at 10 a.m. on the month anniversary of a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The national movement, led by the student-led Women's March Empower group, encouraged people to stand up and voice their concerns about gun violence and to prompt Congress to take action. The day also served as a way to honor the victims of the Florida shooting.

St. Helens

Nearly 100 students at St. Helens High School gathered on a grassy hill near the administration building at 10 a.m., where students planned to take part in 17 minutes of silence starting 10:05 a.m. — one minute for each of the students slain in Florida.

"Our message was to basically stand up for our school and schools across the country. We don't feel safe and we shouldn't have to walk in the hallways in fear every day," senior Hannah Temple said. "And to stand up for the kids who can't."

Over the past month, several threats have been made at the high school, and several students were arrested in connection with social media posts related to those threats.

"I think we had a lot of threats in the last couple of weeks and the fear that you felt in the hallways when you were walking through, you heard people saying, like, 'what happens if I get shot?' Or, 'I'm gonna go home.' These kids can't learn. They can't thrive," said senior Jayden Alexander. "These seniors are worried if we're going to make it to that graduation walk at the end of this year."

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: DARRYL SWAN - A group of students at Scappoose High School also participated in the national school walkouts Wednesday morning, March 14. Several representatives from Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamics office were also present at the walkout.A group of 20 students organized a counter protest and weighed in on the walkout, with several wearing red "Make America Great Again" hats and shouting about Second Amendment rights, gun control and President Donald Trump. Several students in the walkout group returned shouts, pointing out they had the right to peacefully protest. During the planned 17-minute silence, the counter protesters continued to shout and yell.

"They're not the biggest problem that we have. It's the neutrality and the not doing anything that's the biggest issue," Cottrell said later said of the counter protesters. "It's the reason that a lot of things we don't like happen, is because people just sit around and do nothing."

A small group of parents and community members gathered on the sidewalk away from school grounds to show support for the students. Some of them yelled back at counter protesters, while others simply watched.

Scappoose

In Scappoose, about 50 Scappoose High School students left their classrooms Wednesday morning to protest at the school's front entrance as part of the national student movement.

Isaac Walton, a Scappoose High junior, was part of a second group to arrive outside the building shortly after 10 a.m. He said he hopes the students' actions create a domino effect to bring about change in the wake of the Florida massacre, and added he was encouraged to see other students join in the protest.

"I'm glad to see other people participating," Walton said. "It means I'm not the only one who feels this way about this."

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Students at St. Helens High School were met by a group of student counter protesters Wednesday morning. The counter protesters were advocating for gun rights and chatted sloagns in support of President Donald Trump.Eventually others started to assemble near the front entranceway, forming a semi-circle as, one-by-one, students stepped forward to speak.

Montana Poppenhagen, a 16-year-old junior who helped organize and lead the Scappoose High protest, was overcome with emotion as she recited the names of the 17 students killed in the Feb. 14 shooting. Poppenhagen also said her generation has a calling to bring a halt to school shootings.

"We are considered the school shooting generation," Poppenhagen said. "And it should certainly not be passed on to the next."

Others touched on issues of gun violence, assault rifles, and fear for younger siblings who are soon to be headed into middle and high schools. There was also a refrain about political leaders' track record of inaction in the face of mass shootings.

Student Nicole Flanagan told the crowd she knows the fear resulting from gun violence in schools. Flanagan said she was a student at H.B. Lee Middle School in the Reynolds School District in 2014 when a student opened fire at Reynolds

High, killing another student and wounding a teacher

before turning the gun on himself.

"I know what it's like. I know what it's like to be scared," she said, noting the worry and concern about the safety of friends' siblings upon learning of the shooting. She said her parents moved to the Scappoose School District when she was in eighth grade with the intent to avoid such school violence.

One student activist brought attention to the sounds of children's laughter across from the high school at Grant Watts Elementary, where grade school students played during outdoor recess.

"I don't really worry about myself," the student said. "I worry about them."

Ali Mayeda, a staff member with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici's office, read a statement from the congresswoman in support of the walkout. Bonamici's office sent four staff members to schools across her district to support the student rallies.

"I will continue to stand with you in this important work to enact common sense policies to prevent gun violence," notes a statement from Bonamici read by Mayeda to the students. "Thank you for turning your grief into action and for leading the way to keep our communities safe."

The assembled participants spent the final minute of the protest in silence, heads bowed, reflecting on those who lost their lives in Florida prior to filing back inside for the remainder of the school day.

In Scappoose, students who took part in the demonstration and missed classes and will be required to attend a three-hour Saturday school makeup day for participating in an act of civil disobedience according to school policies, a press release from the district stated.

A group of seven Scappoose middle-schoolers also took part in the walkout, according to school officials. A similar walkout was also planned at St. Helens Middle School.

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